Two out of three children in Latin America and the Caribbean have not returned to the classroom after months of coronavirus lockdown, the United Nations has warned, warning of long-term consequences.
The region has had longer uninterrupted school closures than any other in the world, with 153 in-person school days lost on average since the pandemic hit, said the UN children's agency, UNICEF.
"For the past 18 months, most children in Latin America and the Caribbean haven't seen their teachers or friends outside of a screen. Those without Internet haven't seen them at all," UNICEF regional director Jean Gough said in a statement.
"Digital education should continue and improve, but it's clear that during the pandemic the most marginalised families haven't had access to learning. Every day out of the classroom brings the most vulnerable children closer to dropout, gang violence, abuse or human-trafficking."
UNICEF said some 47 million children in the region have resumed schooling, but nearly 86 million remain out of the classroom.
It stressed that in-person school attendance was not associated with increased coronavirus transmission.
"The risks of staying out of school are too high, higher than the risks of being in school," said Gough.
"Children in this region have already lost more than a year of school. They can't afford to miss another day of in-person learning."